July 19, 2008

Money From Water Sales Still Pouring in

By Pam Zubeck, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Jul. 19--It may be bone dry in Colorado Springs, but snow is still melting in the high country, filling reservoirs and allowing the city to sell water to farmers, towns and subdivisions.

Water sales totaling 12,200 acre feet of water have brought in $462,311 this year. An acre foot equals about 325,000 gallons. Colorado Springs Utilities customers use roughly 80,000 acre feet of water per year.

"We are in very, very good shape in terms of water storage and water supply," Utilities CEO Jerry Forte told the Utilities Board this week.

In 2002, the year drought set in, the city shut off water sales until last year when it sold to Arkansas Valley farmers and the Division of Wildlife, which put the water in John Martin Reservoir. John Martin, west of Lamar, is a camping, boating, fishing and bird-watching spot bordered by a state park and wildlife area.

This year's buyers include the city, which acquired 84 acre feet for Prospect Lake in Memorial Park.

Others are downstream farmers, the Division of Wildlife, Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine and Cherokee Metro District, which has had difficulty meeting customers' water needs in recent years.

Utilities water supply expert Kevin Lusk said the city has received only 32 percent of what's considered normal precipitation so far this year, but the mountain snowpack was deeper than usual.

"The difference is in 2002 it was dry everywhere statewide," Lusk said.

Last week, snow was still melting, he said, allowing the city to gradually capture the snowmelt and not have to intentionally release water to keep reservoirs from overflowing.

Pikes Peak reservoir levels stood at 73 percent of capacity in early July, while the system total, which includes transmountain reservoirs, stood at 90 percent.

Meantime, eastern Colorado is abnormally dry, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which produces a "drought monitor" available at http://drought. unl.edu/dm/monitor.html.

The July 15 map shows extreme and exceptional drought in southeast Colorado, northwest Oklahoma and southwest Kansas.


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